Saturday, January 30, 2021

Weekend Reading: Blame the Headache Edition

I woke up headachy and ended up going back to bed for awhile. So now it is almost 11 and I've done basically nothing yet. This will probably be a somewhat short post because I have optimistically put my exercise leggings on and am planning to try to get out for some exercise before lunch. Or maybe right after lunch. We'll see.

Anyway, let's get to the links.

This week, we had reports come out on both the J&J and Novavax vaccines. I am encouraged by both, and would take either if it were offered to me. Derek Lowe did a nice job summarizing what the reports tell us. Although the top line efficacy numbers for these two vaccines are lower than for the mRNA vaccines that are currently FDA approved, that is not the full story. All of the vaccines seem quite effective at preventing hospitalization and death. The mRNA vaccine trials were done earlier in the pandemic, before some of the current worrisome variants emerged, and although lab tests indicate they should also be protective against those variants, we don't know what their percent efficacy would be if trialed now. 

So my stance still remains: Take the first FDA-approved vaccine offered to me, as soon as it is offered.

Also, I am delighted to see that J&J is investigating the question of whether vaccinated people can get asymptomatic infections and transmit the virus:

I was also delighted to read that the government thinks we may be vaccinating kids by the summer.

This is a riveting story of the attack on the Capitol, told by a reporter who was trapped inside. I do not think most Americans are really grasping how close we came to that day being so much worse. I think many of us - probably myself included - aren't allowing ourselves to really process that, because there are too many other things we need to do and to focus on what happened on January 6 might derail us. 

Tressie McMillan Cottom on what rejecting white supremacy really means for many white people. 

In environmental news:

GM wants to transition away from gas-powered cars by 2035.

David Roberts has a summary of all the good things Biden has already done on climate.

I'm going to stop there because my husband is listening to music that is making my headache come back. But he is mopping the floor so I hate to complain... I think I should just get out for that walk. 

But first, here are things that made me smile this week:

Jaguar and ocelot in Arizona!

Goats with pool noodles:

This beautiful thread:

This panda:

Pretty bird:

Here's your bunny for the week:

Have a good weekend!

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Weekend Reading: The Reclaiming a Bit More Happiness Edition

Wednesday felt good, didn't it? I couldn't watch much live so I stayed up later that I should have watching the recordings. Watching them made me feel a mix of happiness (that the Trump presidency is over), relief (that we have competent people trying to solve our problems again), pride (that we, the people, managed to get rid of Trump), and profound sadness (that the Trump presidency happened and that so many people didn't make it through to the other side).

Anyway, I am very grateful that I have made it to the other side of the Trump presidency, and so have all of my loved ones. And so did our democracy, if only barely. We have much work to do, and in future weeks I will post about what I'm doing to help.

For right now, though, I am focusing on reclaiming a bit more happiness in my life. The Trump years were exhausting. The pandemic is exhausting. And yes, there is much work still to do to get through this particular crisis point in American history, but this is a long term project and you don't run a long project in perpetual crunch mode. 

As I wrote last week, I've been trying to scroll social media less and spend my time on more restorative things. I've also been trying to rebalance how I use social media. Instagram is my place to remind myself of the nice things in the world. I have occasionally used my Instagram account as a place to post things I notice that make me happy. That practice has always fizzled out. I recently listened to the Ologies episode with Neil Pasricha and was inspired to try again. This time I'm going to try it as a daily practice because I think daily habits are easier to establish and maintain. I'm posting one thing that made me happy each day on my Instagram account along with the many pictures of our pet hamster. I'm restlessrabbit42 over there if you want more cute hamster photos in your life.

I haven't figured out how to reform my Twitter usage yet, so I'm just trying to cut back for now and hoping what to do will become clear. 

I did decide to start trying to post over at Adjusted Latitudes more. I had the idea that I could use that as a place to share the interesting music videos from around the world that Mr. Snarky and I like finding. I explain in my first musical tourism post over there.

And now on to the other links:

I am really enjoying the Ologies podcast! Another recent favorite was the episode on sleep.

I also found the conversation Ana Marie Cox had with Adam Serwer on the inauguration and this moment in history really good.

But this is supposed to be weekend reading not weekend listening! 

I found this quote from the San Diego Union-Tribune's story about our local vaccination efforts telling:

"Fletcher noted during the county’s weekly coronavirus briefing that the county often doesn’t know more than about a day in advance that doses are coming. "

I know that the chaotic rollout is very, very frustrating for all of us... but try to imagine being a local health official or a hospital administrator attempting to make a plan for a smooth vaccination effort when you don't know ahead of time how many doses you'll have. I hope the new federal team can sort this out quickly. We should expect some ongoing hiccups - batches will fail quality control, miscommunications will still happen - but the manufacturers know how many batches they are making so it should be possible to give local officials a little more predictability for their plans.

Speaking of manufacturing... here is a deep dive on the manufacturing of the mRNA vaccines (thanks to Derek Lowe and Chemjobber for sharing it on Twitter). It is very technical and not in my particular area of expertise but a couple of things jumped out: this is the first time the biologics manufacturing industry has tried to make clinical grade mRNA at such a large scale. This is not an easy manufacturing process:

"The skills to produce mRNA at scale and the associated supply chain are new. The conversion process from DNA to mRNA in living cells is well understood. However, doing it at scale, in a factory, and with a long shelf-life is still an area of development."

Could something like the Defense Production Act help? I don't know, but I don't think it is obvious. I am glad that we finally have a team in place that I trust to look at all the options and make smart decisions driven by a desire to actually help Americans, not protect one man's ego. I am sure there were some good people trying to do the right thing in the last administration... but they had a hefty headwind from the political side and that should be gone now.

The thread this tweet is part of, and the linked story are worth your time if you want to try to understand what has gone wrong in Southern California (and LA county in particular):

Heaps of spoilers... but I liked Athena Scalzi's take on the movie Soul.

Some things that made me smile this week:

This is genius:

I wish I could go see these:

Vaccine Wellerman!

Baby capybaras!

Here's your bunny for the week:

Have a good weekend!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Weekend Reading: The Trying Not to Whine Edition

At the start of the year, I thought I might set myself a goal of spending less time scrolling Twitter and more time doing more useful and/or restorative things with my downtime. 

And then January 6th happened, and I got sucked right back in.

I still think it is a good goal for me this year. My approach to social media is that if it isn't adding something good to my life, I shouldn't use it. This is why I am almost never on Facebook. I am on Instagram, originally to figure things out since Pumpkin was getting an account, and now because Petunia likes to scroll it during morning cuddles. We follow mostly zoos and nature accounts (plus some friends and a smattering of other accounts), and we post mostly photos of her pet hamster (plus the occasional sunset, flower from a walk, or other innocuous thing). 

I have long said that I like Twitter because it keeps me informed. And it has. My Twitter feed is why I was ahead of the curve on masks, and it is how I am gathering information about the B.1.1.7 variant and other coronavirus-related information that truly does help me keep my family safe. My Twitter feed has also broadened my horizons in innumerable ways and I think it has given me insights into a lot of different issues that I would not have found otherwise. And it can be fun and beautiful - the Sea Shanty thing is happening on TikTok but I know about it because of Twitter. I love the bird pictures that various accounts I follow post, and of course there's The Rabbit of the Day and The Hamster of the Day to make me smile.

But during a time like this, Twitter is also an anxiety amplifier and it is one that is hard to look away from, because there is a constant stream of new information. But it is not information that I need to use to make decisions, and so it is better for me if I find a way to look away.

At the start of the year, I thought I'd spend more time writing. I have some cool ideas in mind for Adjusted Latitudes, and a backlog of things I want to write about over on Beyond Managing as well as some things I'd like to write about here. But all of that feels a but trivial and weird to post about right now, so I haven't been doing it.

I started this post on Thursday night, but never finished it because from here, it turned a bit whiny (I just deleted all of that...) and I couldn't come up with an ending that wasn't whiny. Maybe this is because I was legitimately feeling whiny. I had a tough week on many fronts.

But it is the weekend, and the weather is glorious here. I am determined to have a good weekend.

First, though, let's get to the links.

After I gave up on my blog post on Thursday night, I finally sat down and read through the evidence I could find about the B.1.1.7 variant, masks, and other infection avoidance measures. I think I have already posted a link to the mask study Monica Gandhi and Linsey Marr did, but it turned out to be one of the most useful things I read, so here it is again.

I spent a lot of time trying to find out if the double mask method described in that study (a surgical mask under a well-fitting cloth mask) is better than a cloth mask with a p2.5 filter. The Gandhi and Marr study also recommends a cloth mask with a vacuum bag type filter, but that is different from a p2.5 filter. I did a lot of searching and didn't really find anything comparing the efficacy of the p2.5 filters. In the end, I decided that the double mask method would be better because it might help minimize gaps around the edges of the cloth mask. If anyone comes across some actual evidence on the effectiveness of a p2.5 filter in minimizing virus transmission, I'd love to see it. I'll hold on to my p2.5 filters, though, because they were handy during fire season.

My searching for info on the best filter options did turn up this useful write-up of different filter/mask options, which might be helpful if you prefer a single mask with a filter.

I also spent some time trying to understand the difference between a surgical and a procedure mask. I think most of the masks that people call "surgical masks" are actually procedure masks, because according to this source, surgical masks have ties and are designed to be worn with a surgical cap (so they won't slip) whereas procedure masks have earloops. There is some evidence that the tie masks fit better (see this article for that and also a summary of the double masking advice aimed at a general audience). If I needed to be indoors a lot, I would probably try to get surgical masks (or N95s...) but for my purposes I think the important thing about the non-cloth mask or filter is that it be made from non-woven material. I have some procedure masks that fit the bill (which I bought to keep in our cars in case we forgot a mask) and so we'll use those, and when they are almost gone I will go back down the rabbit hole trying to figure out what the best mask to buy will be. And I will try very hard not to dwell on the fact that it is ridiculous that I, an individual consumer, am left to figure out what mask to use on my own and that we still have such a shortage of N95 masks that the advice can't just be "buy some N95s and here's how to make sure they fit." 

But that is getting dangerously close to whining again, so moving on....

Next, I turned my attention to what we know about whether the B.1.1.7 variant increases the risk of transmission outdoors compared to the "regular" variant. We don't have a lot of data on this, but I found this thread from an infectious disease expert in Scotland useful:

The bottom line is that she thinks the risk outdoors is still low, particularly when combined with other mitigation factors (e.g., masks and/or distance).

The evidence that the B.1.1.7 variant is more transmissible is getting stronger, though, and pretty much all of the experts I read take the higher transmissibility as a given. Julia Belluz had a nice write-up in Vox of what this means in practice. Basically, now is the time to redouble your efforts not to share air with anyone not in your household. So, minimize trips to stores and avoid non-essential indoor activities. And improve your masks, if you can. 

So, after all of my reading, the primary change to my earlier rules is that I'll be double masking when I go into stores, and I'll minimize trips to stores even more. I would still be OK with seeing friends occasionally as long as we do it outdoors and keep distance/wear masks... but that is currently against "the rules" in San Diego, and Petunia is convinced that if we break that rule we are contributing to her not being able to go back to in-person school, which is the thing she wants most right now. Any discussion of how we might see someone outside our household leads to tears, so for right now our little family is not seeing anyone. This is not sustainable for the length of time it is likely to take for us to get vaccines, so hopefully our local numbers start to come down soon and maybe then I can convince Petunia that we can see people safely.

In non-COVID links:

I thought this was a good open letter to the insurrectionists many of whom, if news accounts are to believed, are genuinely surprised that they are in so much trouble.

Dahlia Lithwick wrote a really good piece on the absurdity of Republicans whining about "cancel culture" and being censored in speeches on the House floor.

This group of scientists and moms who want to mobilize moms to fight climate change for the sake of our kids looks interesting. 

Some things that made me smile this week:

Paper bunnies!

This cat:

And yikes, that's all I have. I must look for some more happy things for next week!

And here's your weekly bunny:

Have a good weekend!

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Weekend Reading: Dark Days Indeed Edition

When I titled last week's post, I didn't realize how dark things would get. I thought I was referencing my region's COVID numbers, which do in fact continue to get worse. But then Wednesday happened. I woke up Wednesday happy about the unexpectedly good results in the Georgia Senate races. I had a busy morning and when I checked my Twitter feed near lunchtime I was completely shocked by what I saw. 

I was not surprised the Trump rally had turned violent. To be honest, I expected there would be clashes with police. I never thought the Capitol would be overrun and people killed. I do not think we yet know what some of those people were planning for the day. 

I am glad the Democrats in Congress are moving to impeach. I don't know if the Senate will even take up the charges before Trump's term is up - McConnell is saying they won't but I don't think he's as in control of things as he thinks he is. (That, incidentally, is my summation of the entire Republican party leadership in recent times - they thought they could control the forces they were using to obtain and keep power, but they could not and we are all paying the price of that.)

The Senate should remove Trump because he is a danger to our country. But regardless of what the Senate does when it receives the Articles of Impeachment, I want Trump impeached again because it would show our kids that at least some of our elected leaders were willing to respond to the shocking events on Wednesday with something approaching the seriousness they deserve. I want my kids to see that our government isn't entirely broken.

Think of the lesson the last 12 months has given our children about our government. We failed to respond adequately to the pandemic, consigning them to either school from home or head to school every day knowing that they might bring a potentially fatal infection home to their family. And now they are watching to see how our leaders will respond to an actual attempted insurrection. Maybe the Senate will run out the clock. But maybe they won't. And maybe if they do, that will also have an impact. The Anchorage Daily News had an interesting interview with Lisa Murkowski that I suspect contains a warning to her fellow Republican Senators.

The point is, we don't know what will happen and I think an act as egregious as this one warrants an attempt to apply whatever consequences we can. Impeach him, because that is the right thing to do.

Anyway, on to the links.

I burned two of my three free Atlantic articles on Clint Smith's two pieces this week, but they are both worth your time: On the Georgia Senate election and the Black Americans who have personal memories of the time before the Voting Rights Act, and on the photo of the man parading the Confederate flag in the Capitol, and the history encapsulated by that photo.

Zack Beauchamp tracing Wednesday's events to years of mainstream Republican politics.

Take a moment to listen to the brother-in-law of the woman who was crushed to death during the riot in the Capitol:

I thought this was a good thread. We should insist on leaders who act as though the truth is true. 

This, from Adam Sewer:

And, looking ahead to the new administration and new Congress:

Rebecca Traister on why Democrats should take up their mandate and stop trying to placate Republicans.

David Roberts on what climate legislation is possible with 50 votes, one of whom is Joe Manchin.

In pandemic news:

Kevin Esvelt and Mark Lipsitch wrote an article urging governments to act quickly to contain the B.1.1.7 variant.

Vaccine delivery is starting to ramp up. Juliette Kayyem has a good thread on that:

California is changing its vaccination strategy to increase speed. Since San Diego county has a growing number of cases in general and of the B.1.1.7 variant, I am glad vaccinations will speed up. 

I am planning to spend some time reading about masks this weekend. With the new variant spreading in my city, I think we need to improve our masking strategy. For the most part, we just won't go near people but for the few shops we do need to go into and in case something happens that requires us to go inside near other people, I want to figure out what our best masks would be. Here are a couple of things I have skimmed and plan to read more carefully:

An article in STAT arguing that we all need some N95s. N95s are prohibitively expensive right now, so perhaps I need to get some KN95s, but to do that I have to navigate a much-less regulated marketplace and so that will take some additional research.

This article in Cell from from Monica Gandhi and Linsey Marr looking at mask effectiveness.

Here's the important quote:

"For maximal protection (Figure 1, bottom panel), members of the public can either (1) wear a cloth mask tightly on top of a surgical mask where the surgical mask acts as a filter and the cloth mask provides an additional layer of filtration while improving the fit; or (2) wear a three-layer mask with outer layers consisting of a flexible, tightly woven fabric that can conform well to the face and a middle layer consisting of a non-woven high-efficiency filter material (e.g., vacuum bag material). If the masks fit well, these combinations should produce an overall efficiency of >90% for particles 1 ฮผm and larger, which corresponds to the size of respiratory aerosols that we think are most important in mediating transmission of COVID-19."

I'm thinking that when we must go inside near other people that we should wear one of the masks that allow us to insert a filter. I need to do some research on the best filters I can get. I have some P2.5 filters but those were bought with the idea of filtering out smoke not virus particles. 

Things that made me smile this week:

The dendrology episode and follow up from the Ologies podcast. I asked on Twitter for new podcast ideas and this is one of the recommendations I got and it is a great podcast! I've listened to several episodes. This one is apparently a fan favorite and I can see why.

Sea Shanty tik-tok:

The fields of Athenry:

A beautiful sunrise:

Your bunny for the week:

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Weekend Reading: Dark Days Ahead Edition

I've had a nice holiday break, and am now coming to terms with the fact that it is basically over. I go back to work on Monday. I needed a little more time. One thing I learned from 2020 is that I really need a proper 2 week vacation each year. I wasn't able to get one this year, and I think that was a mistake. I'll do better in 2021. 

Anyway, the break I did have was good and so I'll be happy with that. We had glorious weather here in San Diego. I didn't get as much time on creative endeavors as I would have liked, but I got two beach walks and a rollerblade outing and I crossed a couple of things off my long term to do list that remove some irritants from my daily life (I cleaned my desk and I moved my recipes from a spiral notebook that was falling apart to recipe binders). And there is still this weekend....

On to the links.

The big local news is that we have found four cases of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19. Since the four cases are spread across the county, none had contact with each other, and the three they've fully interviewed so far have no history of travel outside the county, I think it is safe to assume the variant has been circulating in our community for awhile. 

I think the variant has probably made it to many places in the US. For the most part, we aren't sequencing enough samples to have a good picture of what the US cases look like on a genomic level. 

Between this new variant and the slower than ideal rollout of vaccines here in the US, it has been a tough couple of weeks in coronavirus news. I really wish we had the new team in the White House now, because I think this moment could really benefit from better messaging from the top. I'll say what I think of our situation right now (with all the usual "I am not an expert" caveats) with evidence linked in as possible, and then I'll share some additional things that have informed my opinion.

All of the evidence so far is that the B.1.1.7 variant is not more dangerous to any single individual who catches it, but that it is more dangerous to the community as a whole because it is more transmissible. The early studies indicate it raises the reproduction rate by ~0.4 - 0.7. You can read the preprint of this study.

These are epidemiological studies, and we don't yet have answers about the mechanism by which the reproduction rate is raised. Two theories I have seen are that the mutation in the spike protein makes it easier for the virus to get into cells and that the variant accumulates a higher viral load in the upper respiratory tract. These are just theories, though. Since we don't yet know the mechanism by which the variant is easier to transmit, we can't have specific advice on how to protect ourselves from this variant. However, we do know in general how to protect ourselves from COVID-19: Wear a mask, avoid groups, don't be indoors with people from outside our household, have good hand hygiene, etc., etc. 

Ian Mackay (one of the experts I follow on Twitter) created an infographic showing a Swiss cheese model of COVID-19 avoidance. That infographic has spread far and wide (he wrote about it on his blog), and I think it is a particularly useful way to think about how to protect yourself from the variant COVID-19, so I'll embed a tweet that shows the graphic: 

Clearly, what was working for some people isn't sufficient against this variant - hence the higher reproductive rate. Therefore, I think the thing to do is to take a look at your practices and think about where you can further reduce risk. Can you make some of the holes in the Swiss cheese smaller? Before Christmas, I shared the rules my little family of four have been living by. Given the high case load in San Diego and the evidence that we have the B.1.1.7 variant here, we've decided to decrease our risk by being even more careful about seeing friends. We aren't yet sure what that will mean. Our old rule was we could occasionally see friends outdoors as long as we wore masks or were ~6 feet apart. We're going to halt seeing people outside our family for a little bit while we figure out the new rules. We will figure out new rules and see friends, though, because we think the grown ups in our family are at least 6 months from getting a vaccine and who knows when there will even be a vaccine for kids? So again, we need to find some set of rules that minimize risk that we can sustain for many months.

Speaking of vaccines... wow, what a mess. The rollout is not going as well as we'd like. I think the pace will pick up as we leave the holiday period and as the local officials who have had managing vaccinations dumped on them on top of all the other extra work brought by the pandemic figure out how to manage. This undoubtedly could have been better coordinated and it is infuriating that it was not. However, I don't think the slow rollout is a reason to change the overall plan. We have a problem with getting actual vaccinations coordinated and done. Let's fix that problem. I don't see how delaying the second dose helps fix the actual problem at all. Basically, I agree with this:

Delaying the second shot would address a supply problem, but our vaccination rate is not currently limited by supply. Let's solve the problem we actually have.

I also found this point compelling. We aren't going to outrun an exponential curve by vaccinating faster. We need to double down on our non-pharmaceutical interventions!

Finally, this long thread from Carl Bergstrom matches my thinking on why I don't think we should change our plan, even though I have zero experience with cold-weather mountaineering!

I know everyone is frustrated that people aren't avoiding crowds and wearing their masks, and so they are looking for a way to work around that. I don't think there is one. I think our energy would be better spent fixing the vaccine rollout problems and working on improving compliance with the non-pharmaceutical interventions we know work. Can we come up with a "wear your mask" campaign that would reach some of the people who won't wear them now? Can we help stores and other indoor places where people need to be improve their ventilation?  And so on.

However, it doesn't really matter what I think about our vaccine strategies. I will control what I can control (my own behavior and my family's activities) and hope for the best on the rest.

Also: more vaccines may be coming soon, which further argues for investing our effort in figuring out how to get vaccinations done as quickly as possible. The J&J trial is expecting to provide results by the end of the month. The US study on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will perhaps help sort out the confusing set of information we have about that vaccine. Novavax has fully enrolled their phase 3 trial. And there are more.... Derek Lowe has an excellent round up of where we are at.

And here's a good thread summarizing what we know about the B.1.1.7 variant so far:

Of course, the highest levels of the US government aren't focused on vaccines and handling the new variant at all. They are focused on a futile but deeply disturbing attempt to overturn the results of the November Presidential election. 

I saw this tweet this morning and I am honestly stunned. We have a big problem.

I am glad some Republicans have started speaking out against this nonsense, but honestly I fear they may be too late to really help.

I recommend this interview Chris Hayes did with Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins, two NBC reporters who cover QAnon. It is from before the election, but remains very relevant. 

Enough of that. Here are some things that made me happy:

David Roberts on why he is a progressive.

All the tweets about health care workers getting their vaccines! Too many to share. Here's one particularly moving picture:

Some beautiful art:

Patrick Dexter's Twitter feed. Here's Auld Lang Syne:

These pictures:

And this photo:

This quote (click through to read the full thread):

The Blue Forest in Belgium went on my "things I want to see" list.

The guy who got the deer off the ice:

Service dogs, learning how to listen to a live performance:

This dog, living his best life:

Here's some bunnies to end on:

Happy New Year, everyone! Have a good weekend, and stay safe.